A new study has suggested it may be possible to predict a person’s academic achievement by looking at their DNA alone.
Researchers have developed a new genetic scoring technique that explains almost 10 per cent of the differences between children’s educational attainment of a child by the age of 16.
The researchers say the new test could be used to help identify those children who might need extra help with their school work to allow them to keep up with other pupils.
They said the technique, known as polygenic scoring, showed using DNA testing to predict educational attainment had reached a ‘tipping point’.
Such testing is likely to meet resistance from privacy groups and teachers who will fear it could also be used to segregate children on the basis of their genetic makeup.
Saskia Selzam, a biological psychologist who was the first author of the study, said ‘We believe that, very soon, polygenic scores will be used to identify individuals who are at greater risk of having learning difficulties.
‘Through polygenic scoring, we found that almost 10 percent of the differences between children’s achievement is due to DNA alone.
‘Ten percent is a long way from 100 percent but it is a lot better than we usually do in predicting behaviour.
‘For instance, when we think about differences between boys and girls in maths, gender explains around one per cent of the variance.
‘Another example is ‘grit’, which describes the perseverance of an individual, and only predicts around five per cent of the variance in educational achievement.’
Previous research using twins has shown that around 60 percent of a person’s educational achievement are due to differences in their DNA from others.
In the new study, which is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the researchers measured the academic achievement in mathematics and English in 5,825 children aged seven, 12 and 16-years-old.
They focused on 74 genetic variants that have been found to be significantly associated with traits considered to be related to academic achievements – like the number of years spent in education and further education.
These had been identified in a previous study by the researchers that examined almost 10 million genetic variants known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs for short.
To create the polygenic score, the researchers weighed up how these SNPs influenced educational attainment with the level of their association to that trait before they were all summed together.
The findings showed that those with a higher polygenic score were more likely on average to obtain an A and B while those with a lower score obtained an entire grade below at GCSE.
They also found that 65 percent of those with the higher polygenic score went on to do A-levels while only 35 percent of those with lower scores did the same.